Security Experts:

Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


Endpoint Security

Much of Malware Found by Industrial Firms on USB Drives in 2020 Targeted OT

Honeywell releases 2021 industrial cybersecurity USB threat report

Honeywell releases 2021 industrial cybersecurity USB threat report

Much of the malware discovered last year by industrial organizations on USB drives was capable of causing disruption to industrial control systems (ICS), according to a new report from Honeywell.

Honeywell’s 2021 Industrial Cybersecurity USB Threat Report is based on data collected by the company’s Forge Secure Media Exchange (SMX) product, which is designed to protect industrial facilities from USB-borne threats by requiring users to check USB drives for potential threats using a dedicated device before connecting them to any endpoint within the organization.

The data was collected from organizations in the oil and gas, energy, pulp and paper, chemical manufacturing, buildings, water, aerospace and other sectors across more than 60 countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

According to Honeywell, 79% of the malware identified by its USB security product on the drives scanned by customers in 2020 was capable of disrupting operational technology (OT) systems, up from 59% in 2019.

“The increased severity of threat comes from increasingly multi-functional malware, which is capable of directly impacting target systems (20%), downloading stage-2 payloads (9%), or opening backdoors, establishing direct remote access, and command and control (52%),” Honeywell said in its report.

Learn More About Threats to Industrial Systems at SecurityWeek’s ICS Cyber Security Conference and SecurityWeek’s Security Summits Virtual Event Series

The study found that the use of USB removable media increased by 30% last year, and so did the percentage of malware capable of propagating over USB or exploiting USB devices for initial infection — there was an increase from 19% in 2019 to 37% in 2020.

Trojans were the most common, accounting for 76% of detected threats, and many pieces of malware were wormable or provided remote access to infected systems.

Honeywell also noticed that an increasing number of threats found on USB drives (30%) were designed specifically for industrial use, or at least associated with campaigns known to focus on industrial organizations.

While 9% of the malware was designed to deploy additional payloads, more than half of the detected threats were capable of creating a permanent backdoor or providing remote access to systems.

“We saw the first indications of this behavior in 2019, and the consistent increase across all of these factors strongly indicates that the patterns are intentional: adversaries targeting industrial operators are specifically leveraging USB removable media as an initial penetration vector, as part of a larger cyber-attack campaign,” Honeywell warned.

Related: Cybercriminals Target Industrial Organizations in Information Theft Campaign

Related: Honeywell Sees Rise in USB-Borne Malware That Can Cause Major ICS Disruption

Related: USB Drives Deliver Dangerous Malware to Industrial Facilities: Honeywell

Written By

Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

Click to comment

Daily Briefing Newsletter

Subscribe to the SecurityWeek Email Briefing to stay informed on the latest threats, trends, and technology, along with insightful columns from industry experts.

Join this webinar to learn best practices that organizations can use to improve both their resilience to new threats and their response times to incidents.


Join this live webinar as we explore the potential security threats that can arise when third parties are granted access to a sensitive data or systems.


Expert Insights

Related Content


The changing nature of what we still generally call ransomware will continue through 2023, driven by three primary conditions.


No one combatting cybercrime knows everything, but everyone in the battle has some intelligence to contribute to the larger knowledge base.


A recently disclosed vBulletin vulnerability, which had a zero-day status for roughly two days last week, was exploited in a hacker attack targeting the...

CISO Strategy

Cybersecurity-related risk is a top concern, so boards need to know they have the proper oversight in place. Even as first-timers, successful CISOs make...


The overall effect of current global geopolitical conditions is that nation states have a greater incentive to target the ICS/OT of critical industries, while...

Malware & Threats

Threat actors are increasingly abusing Microsoft OneNote documents to deliver malware in both targeted and spray-and-pray campaigns.

CISO Strategy

Varied viewpoints as related security concepts take on similar traits create substantial confusion among security teams trying to evaluate and purchase security technologies.

Malware & Threats

Microsoft plans to improve the protection of Office users by blocking XLL add-ins from the internet.